Planning on jetting off somewhere within the EU for your summer holidays? Hopefully the only thing you have to worry about is a bit of sunburn …
ECC Ireland hears from a lot of consumers after their summer holidays didn’t exactly go according to plan. From accommodation and car rental nightmares to electronic gadget fraud, we’ve heard it all. Here are some of the most common misconceptions that many consumers have, and some answers:
1. Booking holiday accommodation online is so easy, just click a button and start packing the beachwear.
Booking accommodation online is very convenient but you still need to make sure you do your research and know what you’re booking. A lot of us sun seekers use third-party accommodation ‘intermediary’ websites which are great for giving us a list of all the prices from different providers. However, consumers often get a bit confused by the ‘book now, pay later’ or ‘free cancellation’ options. Many forget to check when and how the payment will be eventually taken – for example, is it via the credit card on/by a particular date or is it taken at the hotel desk when you check in? We all know that nothing in life comes free, so that handy ‘free cancellation’ is usually at no extra cost only for a certain period, for example, maybe about 14 days before check-in. After that, it may not be possible to cancel or there is a fee applied.
Whether you’re using an intermediary site or booking directly through the accommodation provider’s own website, holidaymakers should always ensure they know what the final total cost will be and read the terms and conditions fully prior to hitting that purchase button. It may also be a good idea to take screenshots of the relevant information presented during the booking process and how the accommodation was advertised to you, just in case it turns out to be some sort of roach motel or there’s construction that you weren’t told about. If there is a problem at the hotel, collect evidence (e.g. pictures) and make a complaint to the on-site management (also put it in writing if possible).
Then there’s the problem of the ‘too good to be true’ deals that suddenly become available during the peak holiday season. While many are indeed legitimate, with the purpose of getting empty flight seats or hotel rooms booked, there are unfortunately a lot of fraudsters out there who prey on those looking to nab a last-minute getaway bargain.
ECC Ireland receives regular complaints from Irish consumers who have been scammed or have encountered suspicious situations when booking their holiday accommodation online. Cases have included a consumer who booked a villa online, but the owner asked for payment directly and even passport details. In another case, the property existed but the consumer had been in contact with a fake owner. Once the money is taken out of the consumers’ account the owner disappears, leaving a holiday ruined and sometimes the consumer in a difficult financial situation.
It may be really tempting go for that ‘great deal’ straight away but consumers really should take the time to thoroughly research the company or accommodation provider you are booking through, especially if you are unfamiliar with them. You should also look for reviews to see if other consumers have had a bad experience. Never let yourself be lured into sending money by bank transfer and always use a secure method of payment like a credit card or PayPal.
2. I don’t have to do anything to access emergency medical care within the EU. I’ll deal with it, if it happens.
When it comes to your health it’s good not to take any chances. Why not take all the steps you can now to ensure that you can access the emergency medical care that you may need if you fall ill or there is an accident? It only takes just a few minutes (less than 10 mins to be exact) to go to the HSE website and apply for a European Health Insurance Card or EHIC, and better still, it’s totally free. What’s not to like?
Important things to note about EHIC: The card can be used when treatment becomes necessary during a temporary visit but does not cover instances where the purpose of the visit is to obtain medical care. The card does not entitle you to a higher level of cover than what is available to eligible citizens in the country you are visiting, for example, in some countries, treatments are provided free of charge or at a reduced cost but in others, you must pay the total cost and then claim a refund or a partial refund back later.
Of course, when you’re going on holidays it’s always a good idea to also get travel insurance as most policies include some sort of cover for illness or injury. Travel insurance may also help to reduce the cost of medical expenses, which even at reduced rates, can be expensive in some countries. If you have private health insurance provider, check with your provider to see if illness and injury abroad is covered and if there is a travel insurance add-on. The Competition and Consumer Protection website has more advice about travel insurance.
You can also find out more tips from ECC Ireland’s Summer Survival Kit guide.
3. I haven’t got time to make sure everything is okay with my car rental when on holiday. Sure, it’ll be grand!
It’ll be grand?? Not necessarily, so get that notion out of your head right now. It’s understandable that when you land you want to get the holiday party started as soon as possible or the kids are hot and bothered, there’s a massive queue and you just want to drive off into the sunset. Many a consumer has learnt (sometimes too late) that there are a lot of things you should consider when renting a car abroad.
ECC Ireland has heard from consumers who, when they get to the car rental desk, have been left confused about the fuel policy, deposit requirements, and/or whether to get the car rental’s insurance cover or not. It’s so important to thoroughly read through the terms and conditions so that you know what is/is not included in your booking. Before you even get to the desk you should know whether you want to stick with your own third-party insurance/excess cover (if you’ve bought this) or buy the car rental company’s cover – just remember that if you decide on the former you may have to pay a deposit.
Once that’s out of the way, the next thing is to check the condition of the vehicle. Normally a car rental rep would note this on a check-list form (this is sometimes the piece of paper with the diagram of a car on it). Don’t be afraid to walk around with the rep, inspect the car, take pictures of it, at all angles, and point out any pre-existing damage (making sure this is noted properly because if you don’t, you could end paying for it). Don’t forget to get a copy of this form! If a staff member is not available to do the check, then just do it yourself, make a written note of it, and do not leave the premises without getting it signed at the car rental desk. On your return make sure you allow plenty of extra time to do this inspection again (remember to take pictures) before rushing off to catch your flight. If you’re returning the car outside the working hours of the car rental company, then park it in the designated area and take pictures to prove it was left back in good condition. Don’t forget to take a picture of the fuel gauge as well to prove you’ve complied with the fuel policy.
4. If my carry-on luggage must go into the hold and something happens to my expensive laptop or jewellery then the airline is responsible, right?
If you’re looking for the airline to pay you back for losing valuable/fragile items in baggage that goes in the hold then think again. Unfortunately, even if you are told at the departure gate that you cannot bring your second larger cabin luggage on to the plane with you and that it has to go into the hold (with the other checked-in luggage) then it is still your responsibility to ensure that you take valuable/fragile items out of it and bring it on board with you.
Why is this? Well, if you check the terms and conditions of most airlines, looking specifically for their policies in relation to baggage then you will normally find information about liability and what should/should not be included in checked/unchecked baggage. It’s important to note here that earlier this year Ryanair changed its baggage policy so that now ‘non-priority’ customers have to place their 10kg carry-on bags in the hold. So, always check baggage policies thoroughly!
However, you do have rights in relation to lost, delayed, or damaged baggage, and other non-valuable/fragile items contained within, because of the Montreal Convention. If your luggage doesn’t turn up, then you must make your complaint at the airport by going to the baggage reclaim area and filling out a Property Irregularity Report (PIR). Obviously if this happens at the start of your holiday you may need to buy a few things until the baggage arrives but please be realistic and truthful about it – it is definitely not an opportunity to splash out on ‘wish-list’ items so put down that fancy perfume right this minute!!! For damaged items, you should always take pictures of the damage and fill in the PIR at the baggage desk – do not wait until you get home because otherwise, how do you prove that the damage was apparent when you collected it at the airport?
Here’s more advice about your baggage rights and what to do.
Check out the video below created by ECC France showing what items are prohibited and what is allowed in carry-on and checked in baggage. However, remember to take your valuables out if your larger carry-on baggage must go into the hold.
5. I love buying shiny new gadgets when on my holiday. Sure, don’t you get a great bargain on things like electronic goods?
It may be cheaper yeah, but is it a good purchase? Not necessarily. Every year, ECC Ireland receives numerous reports from consumers who have been to popular hot spots and been conned by some unscrupulous traders.
Scams involving the purchase of electronic goods can and do happen at popular sun destinations everywhere but the majority of those dealt with by ECC Ireland have involved Irish holidaymakers in the Canary Islands. Although many traders are reputable, there are some who have used aggressive or misleading selling techniques to pressurise consumers into buying items such as cameras or tablets with the result that they are conned into paying far more than they intended. Other complaints have involved traders suggesting that the product will not function to its highest standard unless the consumer pays for costly supplementary items such as broadband and software, or insurance. Holidaymakers have also been lured in with discounts only to be talked into purchasing other products that have a much higher price tag or are part of a fake subscription. A common scenario involves the consumer paying for the product, but he/she is then told there is a problem and asked for card details again only to be charged a large sum of money. There are instances where the more vulnerable holidaymakers are targeted at their hotels with these traders offering extra assistance such as the delivery of the product or an escort to the shop. Although the majority of cases involve sums of between €200 and €300 being fraudulently taken, there have been instances where €5,000 to €7,000 has been taken out of consumers’ accounts.
Think twice before making that purchase. When we’re on holiday we tend to be more relaxed about things (probably one cocktail too many) so it’s not really the right time to be buying these types of products, is it? If you do want to go ahead with the purchase, then take your time and question everything. Never allow your credit card to be out of your sight and always look at the card reader screen to make sure it is the amount you agreed to pay. Don’t let yourself be pressurised into making a decision there and then – go away and think about it as any reputable trader will be fine with this.